The wound is where the light enters - Rumi
We all have wounds. Whether they are deep-seeded childhood traumas or recent health issues, not one person goes through life without challenges. Most of us are walking around (and showing up at work) with more than anyone really knows.
In our careers though, most of us work really hard to put forth the best image of ourselves. One that conveys intelligence, strength, grit, and the capacity to handle what comes our way. Am I right?
Here's the deal though. Sharing a personal challenge or something that profoundly impacted you, in the right way, can be an incredibly brave act of leadership. The more we can talk about what we've experienced in our lives and how we've learned/ overcome/ evolved from those experiences, the more we're able to create authentic connections with others, build trust, offer support to someone who may be experiencing something similar, and continue to heal ourselves.
Here's the trick though... it's the sorts of wounds you discuss, HOW you talk about them, and whether or not you're already seen as a 'hot mess express' (thank you Cameran Eubanks, #southerncharm indeed y'all) that determines whether sharing this information makes you look like a leader or a loser.
5 Ways to turn Your Wound into Your Gift
1. Ensure Your Intention for Sharing is Pure
Why are you sharing this story with others? If you're sharing it in order to get comfort or sympathy, this is your inner victim running the show. Name that victim (mine is Nelly- she's atrocious) and meet her with humor when she starts trying to run the show, e.g. "Nelly, I think we've heard enough from you, mkay? We'll get you a massage later." If your intentions are anything more than personally connecting with someone else or sharing a similar experience to offer emotional support, they are not pure. Keep the story to yourself.
2. Make Sure Enough Time Has Passed
Make sure enough time has passed and you've done the work to heal, as opposed to using the conversation as therapy. When you turn your friend at work, boss, or colleague into a shrink, this is when you come across as 'wounded' and risk being met with a less than supportive response (not everyone is able to hold this kind of space for you). How do you know if enough time has passed? Tune into your body when telling the story. Is there a visceral reaction? Are you making a face like you ate something bad for lunch? Our bodies often portray our true emotions even when our minds want to think we've moved on. Tune in.
3. Make it Short and Sweet
Maybe your divorce was the hardest, but also the best, thing that's ever happened to you. If you want to share this with a colleague, learn how to talk about it succinctly. They don't need to know allll of the gnarly details about your ex and his issue and the prescription he had to take for it and that time with the neighbor. Wait, what? Yeah, Nope. An elevator speech (30 seconds or less) that has the big picture overview or headline of what happened, the 2-3 things that you learned, and your reason for mentioning it/ how it applies to your current conversation or situation. That's it.
4. Your Audience Matters
If the person you're sharing information with is above or below you in the company, or a potential client... keep the personal details to a minimum. Please don't think that your direct reports are your friends and overshare. They have to be nice to you- they report into you. I once had a boss who would overshare about her sex life. She provided all of the unwanted details, I provided a safe place where she felt heard. But y'all...It was SO awkward and uncomfortable. I'm clearly still traumatized. Don't be a weirdo.
5. If the Wound is Work-Related, Make it a Universal Lesson (and leave out specifics)
Here's the truth. The second you start talking about work-related challenges, the people you're talking to start trying to figure out: who you're talking about, when this happened, if they know the people, and why you didn't 'cut them' when you had the chance (oooh, burn). Fight, flight, freeze, and every other f-word you can think of starts happening in our brains, our neural pathways start experiencing rush hour-esque traffic jams with all of the information going from one side of the brain to the other. You're losing them. ESPECIALLY if you're sharing a story about something that has happened with a current set of colleagues, make sure you address 1-4 first and then be sure to leave out the details.
And just in case... When NOT to Share Your Wound
- When you are looking for comfort, sympathy or pity
- When you are trying to blame someone or talk trash about another
- When you are looking to get something (anything) out of sharing
- When you seem to share all of your issues, regularly, and know that you're already seen as the #hotmessexpress (it's the express train to crazy town, hop on board!)
ALL of that being said. Being vulnerable at work, when done in the right way, is a good thing and is a building block for authentic relationships. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
I hope this serves you,